Research projects

The four projects for the current call are listed below.  The application form will ask for two projects to be ranked in order of preference.


 

Project title: Exploring the physiology of colonic nutrient sensing and neuroendocrine signalling

 

Lead supervisor: Professor Gary Frost, Chair in Nutrition and Dietetics

The human microbiome represents a rapidly growing area of research which has seen revolutionary advances over the past decade.  Large scale projects such as the Human Microbiome Project have helped to define the complex interplay between the gut microbiota, metabolic function and the host immune system. In contrast, knowledge on the constellation of bioactive microbial metabolites that influence host biology and possibly modulate human disease still remains in its infancy. The possibility that these metabolites can interact both with specific gastrointestinal receptors and the innate and adaptive immune systems has opened exciting avenues for basic disease understanding and drug discovery, with potential for impacting a range of stakeholders from basic researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, consumers and policy makers. Dissecting the complex interactions between metabolites and their target receptor(s) will provide a novel strategy for better understanding GI GPCR pharmacology.

This project builds on recent work from Professor Frost and Professor Ed Tate, Professor of Chemical Biology at Imperial College. The proposal will also involve Dr Alastair Brown at Heptares, who are developing a strategic collaboration with the college which cuts across gastrointestinal physiology.


 

Project title: Influence of diet on brain structure and cognition in normal aging

 

Lead supervisor: Professor Paul Matthews, is the Edmond and Lily Safra Chair and Head of Brain Sciences

This project would be based on the use of brain imaging, and other phenotypic and nutritional data from the large cohort UK Biobank. Novel bioinformatics approaches will be used to explore relationships in these data using multi-level graph methods coming from the collaboration between Professor Matthews and Professor Mauricio Barahona, lead for the EPSRC Centre for Mathematics in Precision Healthcare at Imperial College. Nestlé scientists will support this focus with their strong interests in nutrition and the brain, particularly for promotion of long-term wellness.   Sustained interactions over the last year have established a firm foundation for a new joint research project, with a solid foundation in current methods and the use of data available in a major UK resource.  At the same time, it will allow a talented student to explore new bioinformatics methods, contributing to their development as biological discovery tools, leading to a “deep dive” towards biological mechanisms underpinning observed associations using systems biology.  

Professor Matthews is Chair of the Imaging Working Group for UK Biobank. He is an Associate Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, a member of the Executive of the Dementias Platforms UK, the Advisory Board for the Imperial College Data Science Institute and a co-I for the EPSRC Centre for Mathematics in Precision Healthcare.  He, has led major imaging centres in Oxford and in GSK and currently supervises a group using ‘omics and imaging methods to stratify risks of poor late life cognitive outcomes. 


 

Project title: Integration of sensory feedback in limb prostheses

 

Lead supervisor: Professor Dario Farina, Professor of Neurorehabilitation

Limb loss is a life changing form of amputation. Our limbs are used for everyday function, expressive communication, and other uniquely human attributes. In addition, the functional, psychological, economic, and social impact of limb loss is even greater. The lack of sensation is the key limitation to re-establishing full functionality of the natural limb. The aim of this PhD project is to design clinical systems for closed-loop integration of robotic limbs in patients that will provide sensory feedback and therefore embodiment. Professor Dario Farina, Professor of Neurorehabilitation at Imperial College London is a world leader in this field, researching on neurorehabilitation technology, neural control of movement, and biomedical signal processing and modelling. Within these areas, Professor Farina has published more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed Journals and over 400 among conference papers/abstracts, book chapters and books, including Introduction to Neural Engineering for Motor Rehabilitation (2013) and Surface Electromyography: Physiology, Engineering and Applications (2015). Professor Alison McGregor will provide co-supervision.

Professor McGregor is chair of Musculoskeletal Biodynamics in the Department of Surgery and Cancer, where she manages the Human Performance Group. Her research focuses on the musculoskeletal system with respect to mechanisms of injury, effects of injury on function, and injury management. The project will be carried out in partnership with Blatchford, a world leading rehabilitation provider with clinical expertise in prosthetics, orthotics, special seating and wheelchairs. Blatchford design and manufacture limb prostheses and produce the world’s most advanced microprocessor artificial limbs.


 

Project title: Effects of traffic-related air pollution and noise on adolescent behaviour and well-being

 

Lead supervisor: Dr Mireille Toledano, Reader in Epidemiology

The principal aim is to investigate the effects of noise and air pollution on adolescent behaviour. The primary beneficiaries of this research will be children living in city environments, such as Greater London, many of whom are disproportionally exposed to environmental stressors. This research will strengthen the limited epidemiological evidence base regarding the relationships between air pollution, noise and behavioural development in adolescents, and will have a major impact on cost- benefit analyses for local air pollution and noise reduction initiatives aimed at protecting children’s long-term health and improving children’s behavioural outcomes at an age when children are particularly vulnerable to these environmental insults. This project is capable of changing the perception of air quality and noise levels, away from simply meeting EU limit values to more extensive exposure reduction, and has the potential to initiate behaviour change through school-led action. Study results will be disseminated in high-ranking peer- reviewed scientific journals and high-profile conferences. Dissemination to wider stakeholders will be via study specific dissemination strategies (e.g. study web-sites, participant newsletters), the MRC-PHE Community Advisory Board, comprising NGOs, politicians, and representatives of press and industry, and through the activity of Imperial College Outreach, which facilitates public and school engagement with research.For this project, we will combine data from three longitudinal studies conducted in Greater London. These include the RELACHS, DASH and SCAMP studies. In total, baseline data for ~14,000 children will be available for this project, with at least 75% available at follow-up.

The Principal Investigator, Dr Mireille Toledano is a Reader in Epidemiology at Imperial College London and an investigator of the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment & Health. She has more than 15 years’ specialised expertise in environmental epidemiology and the design, set up and follow-up of prospective cohort studies for environment and health. She is PI of the SCAMP cohort study, PI of the BEED cohort study, co-PI of the COSMOS cohort study, and leads work packages/themes in the ongoing TRAFFIC project and NIHR-HPRU. The co-supervisor is Dr Charlotte Clark from Queen Mary University of London & Arup Group Limited. Arup is a UK-based engineering company with expertise in noise. The non-academic/industry partner supervisor is Mr John Rogers from Delosis Limited. Delosis is a UK-based SME specialising in the implementation of distributed assessment solutions. More than a million assessments have been conducted using Delosis software since their incorporation and data from these assessments have contributed to over 30 publications in journals including Neuropsychopharmacology, Molecular Psychiatry, and PLOS one. Academic collaborators of this project are Professor Seeromanie Harding, Kings College London and Professor Stephen Stansfeld, Queen Mary University of London.